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Starting on a Dime

First Success

Sam and Helen Walton bought their first Ben Franklin variety store, in Newport, Arkansas, in 1945. Within five years, Sam had fulfilled his wish to make his store the top Ben Franklin franchise in the state. But when it came time to renew the lease, his landlord refused, wanting to give the store to his son. Sam and Helen were forced out and had to look for a new location.

"You can make a positive out of the most negative if you work at it hard enough" – Sam Walton

 
 
 
 
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Newspaper ad for the grand reopening of Sam's expanded and renovated store.

Sam bought the building that would become Walton's 5&10 from Luther Harrison. This fan is an ad for the original Harrison's Variety Store.

Newspaper articles covering Ben Franklin store openings and Sam Walton's civic participation.

The first ad for Walton's 5&10 in the Benton County Democrat, July 29, 1950, promises free balloons and sales specials on glassware, clothespins, and other items.

Walton family Christmas letter, December 1958.


In 1950, Sam Walton bought Harrison's Variety Store, on the west side of Bentonville Square.

 
 
 
 

This interior shot of Harrison's shows the typical fixtures and merchandise of a 1940s variety store.

 
 
 
 

The first associates: (from left) Ann Womble, Ruth Keller Smith, Wanda Nichols, and Ruby Parrish, 1951.

 
 
 
 

Walton's 5&10 in the 1950s. Sam tried out a new idea in Bentonville: self-service. His store was only the third self-service variety store in the country.

 
 
 
 
   

Bouncing Back

Scouting around Northwest Arkansas, Sam found a small variety store in Bentonville, whose owner, Luther Harrison, was willing to sell. After negotiating the deal, the family moved to Bentonville and opened a new Ben Franklin variety store that Sam called Walton's 5&10. The date was May 9, 1950. Sam began an extensive remodeling program, which was completed in March 1951. He advertised his new store as the "most up-to-date, modern variety store in Northwest Arkansas."

A Christmas event in the 1950s brought this crowd to Bentonville Square. Walton's 5&10 can be seen on the left.

Saturdays around Bentonville Square were something special. Dad always had something going on ... it seemed like we had a circus or carnival going on almost every weekend.
Alice Walton

The Ben Franklin Years

After working with Sam for one and a half years at the Newport store, Bud and Audie Walton opened their own Ben Franklin in Versailles, Missouri, in 1947. After Sam’s move to Bentonville, the Walton brothers were able to expand to other towns with other stores. Eventually, they would operate Ben Franklin stores and Walton's Family Centers in 15 locations between 1950 and 1965.

Bud Walton and his wife, Audie, opened this Ben Franklin store in Versailles, Missouri, in 1947.

 
 
 
 

In 1952, Sam opened a second Walton's 5&10, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Like his other stores, it was a Ben Franklin franchise.

 
 
 
 
   
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Telegram from Lee Jalkut, president of Ben Franklin Stores, congratulating Sam on opening a new Ben Franklin variety store in St. Robert, Missouri.

Ben Franklin franchise agreement for a store in Hickman Hills, Missouri, 1954.

Newspaper ad for the grand opening of Bud Walton’s Ben Franklin franchise in Versailles, Missouri.

Newspaper ad for the grand opening of Bud Walton’s Ben Franklin franchise in Versailles, Missouri.


During the 1950s, Sam and Bud began to open larger stores, which they called Walton's Family Center. Bigger stores meant more volume and more sales.

A holiday ad for gifts and toys.


Price-tag printing machine, used to print "WAL-MART" price stickers. It was made around 1950 by Monarch Marking Systems in Dayton, Ohio.